Cara Ameer, a top-producing broker associate from Northeast Florida, writes about working with buyers and sellers, sticky situations and real estate marketing in her regular Inman column that publishes every other Wednesday.

As real estate agents, we’ve all been on the receiving end of internet leads. Whether they be for one of our own listings or for a property in a ZIP code or territory that we are paying for, engaging, working with and converting these leads into actual closings is a hit-or-miss process — and a lot like winning the lottery.

Endless articles, books, webinars and social media chat threads have been dedicated to this very topic: What should we agents do or not do, say or not say? How and when should we follow up? And although that content is helpful for real estate agents, it’s time we flip the script and start educating consumers on what goes on after they select “click here for more information.”

Each time I receive a lead, I’m amazed by how confusing and convoluted the process is — the abundant lack of transparency for both agents and consumers makes it difficult to start the relationship on the right foot sometimes. Potential clients often start their real estate journey with several misconceptions. Let’s change that!

Here are the top six myths about online property shopping — busted.

1. The listing agent is the point of contact

Buyer, depending on what website you are using, the inquiry may not likely be routed to the listing agent. In fact, there is a very good chance that it will be sent to agents who are not the listing agent.

“Say what? You mean when I click the button for more information I’m not being routed to the listing agent?!”

That’s right, Buyer — there may not be a listing agent on the receiving end of your email. You see, leads are not free. There are agents paying big bucks to subscribe to particular ZIP codes in order to receive leads from buyers like yourself for properties on the market in those areas. and Zillow operate this way. The agents who pay to receive leads never really know how many other agents have bought into that particular territory, and they don’t always get a straight answer from the companies they are buying these from.

Buyer, your inquiry is likely getting routed to several agents at once, none of whom are the listing agent. This is why you will likely be contacted by multiple agents in response to one property you simply wanted more information about.

Agents are continually cycling in and out of buying subscriptions to these ZIP codes as it is quite pricey and their return on investment (ROI) is often marginal at best. The costs involved for an agent to receive these leads often equate to a monthly rent or mortgage payment — just to receive leads that may or may not               work out. Can you imagine spending several thousands of dollars a month on leads? The agents responding to your inquiry are investing a significant amount of time, money and effort with no guaranteed sale.

2. I’ll never be able to get these people to stop ‘bothering’ me

Buyer, you should expect to be contacted multiple times by text, email and phone by an agent or their designee. These follow-ups might be in the form of auto-responders if not an actual person trying to reach out. The best way to get these multiple inquiries to stop is to simply respond.

If you are already working with an agent, please let the person who has contacted you know that. If it was an accidental inquiry, let the agent know that too. If you are dreaming about buying a certain kind of home and simply curious, be upfront about that so the agent can appropriately manage the communication with you. If you want to only speak with the listing agent, come clean about it, but don’t expect the person responding to the lead to direct you to that agent as they likely paid big bucks for your inquiry (that’s probably why it got routed to them).

The agent or person responding to you can absolutely assist you with any questions or can track down the information needed. You are not obligating yourself to anyone or anything simply because you “clicked here for more information,” but you need to understand what goes on behind the scenes of the process to minimize confusion in an already confusing situation.

3. It’s just ‘point, click and show,’ right?

Buyer, I realize you might think requesting a showing is as simple as “point, click and show,” but if you are working with an agent, or if your agent is not available, please do not mislead the agent who responds to your internet inquiry by letting him or her show you properties. You already know you have no intention of writing an offer with that agent.

Setting up showing appointments triggers a contagion affect for all involved from the initiating agents to the listing agents and their sellers. Before chasing sellers out of their home because “you have to see it in the next hour and that is the only time you are available,” be considerate: If you are not truly in the market for a home in the near future, give thought to whether viewing the property is a good idea.

Although getting familiar with inventory in the marketplace in advance of buying is acceptable, you are better to engage with one agent who’ll assist you upfront versus randomly inquiring about properties here and there.

Buyer, there are many agents eager to jump into action, arrange to show you property and incubate you as a lead for weeks, months or even years; but doing so when you have other intentions will only lead to disappointment, confusion and frustration for all involved.

4. I can just see the property right away, can’t I?

Trying to see a house is not quite as instant as ordering an Uber. Buyer, the agents contacting you will probably be asking the following questions:

  • Do you have an agent?
  • Have you been prequalified or preapproved by a lender?
  • What is bringing you into the market?
  • What is your time frame for finding a home?
  • Do you rent or own?
  • If you rent, when is your lease up?
  • If you own, do you have to sell a property first in order to buy?

And that might just be the tip of the iceberg.

Why do agents have to ask all of those questions, you ask? Well, agents are trained to “prequalify” all prospects. Their job involves so much more than simply unlocking a door. They have an obligation to themselves and all involved in the real estate process to ensure would-be buyers are following the right process and are qualified to purchase what they are looking at. Not to mention the safety factor involved.

5. Everything mentioned online is everything I need to know

Most people do not buy the property that they inquire about. In fact, most times it is often everything but what they are looking for. An online listing is a surface level look at something that often does not tell the whole story. How much are the association dues and taxes — and what about that hidden assessment? Is there a busy highway or railroad near the home or community? Has the neighborhood been overrun by renters?

Buyer, if you are casually thinking about buying a property in a particular area and are not committed to anyone, consider engaging with an agent who reached out to you to better start the process so you can get some advice and guidance about what you can get for your money in your desired area.

Otherwise, searching online and sending random inquiries on various properties is a lot like throwing a dart. You have no idea what you are looking at, nor do you have any sense of the property, neighborhood, area or factors that could affect value. You will grow weary of multiple agents continually contacting you.

6. I’m looking online — I don’t need an agent

Buyer, despite what the proliferation of technology may have you believe, there is never a substitute for in-the-trenches insight, advice and guidance imparted by a highly-knowledgeable and skilled agent. Contrary to what you might think, an agent can actually save you from making an expensive mistake, overpaying for a property and not fully exploring your options.

An agent might be able to suggest the ideal area for you — one that checks all your boxes and has available properties in your price range — which you would not have found randomly searching online. Agents know what you should know (but don’t) and it is their job to fill in those gaps.

A little online knowledge can be a dangerous thing when it leads buyers to believe they’ve covered all their bases. An agent’s knowledge is a highly valuable thing that far exceeds the price of any property you buy — it’s designed to help you make wise decisions about what is likely the single largest transaction you’ll make in your entire life.

Dear Buyer, before you decide to “click here for more information,” consider how these myth-busters can lead to a more productive and informative property search experience.

Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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